How Eating Kimchi Prevents Lethal Cancer

How Eating Kimchi Prevents Lethal Cancer

Kimchi is one of the world's most popular fermented foods, but did you know that eating it daily can significantly impact your cancer risk? 

A new study published in the journal Oncotarget titled, "Dietary prevention of Helicobacter pylori-associated gastric cancer with kimchi," is the latest example of how a simple dietary intervention can make a world of difference in reducing the risk of one of the most lethal cancers.

Gastric or stomach cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer (9% of all cancer deaths), and the fifth most commonly diagnosed form.1 It is believed that Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection is a primary cause, though smoking, nitrates and nitrites found in cured meat, regular aspirin use, and a lack of vegetables and fruits (and associated antioxidant consumption), also contribute to this multifactorial condition.

In the new study, researchers set out to prove that kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented cabbage dish not unlike sauerkraut (though spicier), could prevent Helicobacter-induced atrophic gastritis (chronic inflammation of the stomach mucosa) and subsequent gastric cancer, by administering to mice a high salt diet and H. pylori. They created a special formula of kimchi, which they called cancer preventive kimchi (cpKimchi), and which added mustard leaf, pear, mushroom, Chinese pepper, and sea tangle juice in addition to the standard kimchi recipe (sKimchi).

First, the researchers compared the effectiveness of the two different types of kimchi in suppressing cancer cell growth in vitro (test tube studies). They found that the cpKimchi recipe was superior to the sKimchi recipe at reducing gastric cancer cell survival. Moreover, they found the cancer killing properties of the cpKimchi recipe was very specific:

All of these experimental results that cpKimchi selectively induced cytotoxicity in cancer cells, while no cytotoxicity in non-transformed cells were further validated with wound healing assay to find that cpKimch imposed capacity to limit the cell growth relevant to anti-tumorigenesis."

Selective cytoxicity is an extremely important property in juxtaposition to conventional cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, which almost invariably harm both healthy and cancerous cells and tissue, leading to iatrogenic morbidity and increased mortality.

Next, the researchers evaluated the effects of the two Kimchi recipes in a rat model of atrophic gastritis. Mice received 24 weeks of a high salt diet and H. pylori infection, which lead to the development of both atrophic gastritis and erosive gastritis. They were next administered cpKimchi mixed with their drinking water up to 36 weeks, with their gastric lesions undergoing evaluation after 24 and 36 weeks, which included analysis of molecular changes that occurred during the intervention. In the cpKimchi group there was a significant decrease in all the adverse changes observed in the control group (e.g. chronic atrophic gastritis presenting with loss of parietal cells, inflammatory cells such as monocytes, lymphocytes, and macrophages replacing gastric glands, and erosive mucosal changes), leading the study authors to hypothesize the cpKimchi had a "rejuvenating effect" on their condition.

They explored the mechanism behind these regenerative effects further, and identified a range of positive molecular changes induced by the cpKimchi intervention, such as:

  • Down-regulation of the "inflammation enzyme" cyclo-oxygenase 2

  • Reduction in macrophage infiltration into the damaged mucosal tissue

  • Reduction in HF-KB p65 expression (a marker for stress associated immune response and inflammation)

  • Reduction in interleukin-6 (a chemical messenger associated with increased inflammation)

  • Reduction in STAT3 activation (increased STAT3 activity has been linked to cancer)

  • Reduction in PGE2 levels (a prostaglandin whose activity is linked to inflammation)

  • Reduction in Malondialdehyde (MDA) levels (a marker of oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation)

  • Increases in H0-1 and HSP70 (an indirect marker of improved oxidative stress)

  • Increases in gastric mucin (an indication of improved infection)

In the third phase of their research, they evaluated the long-term effect of cpKimchi intake on the prevention of H. pylori-induced gastric tumorigenesis by observing the effects of the dietary intervention for up to 36 weeks. The control animals developed significant gastric tumors at 36 weeks, whereas the cpKimchi group saw a significant decrease in their size and occurrence.

The researchers explored their findings, again, looking at molecular mechanisms and markers at play, finding:

  • Reduction in COX-2/ and F/80 expression 

  • Reduction in COX-2 mRNA

  • Reduction in macrophage infiltration

  • Reduction in macrophage-related inflammatory mediators (including IL-1β, VEGF, IL-6, and MMP-2)

  • Reduction in transcription factors related to gastric inflammation (STAT3 and NF-KB)

  • Reduced apoptosis (indicating less H. pylori-induced cell damage/cell death)

  • Increased NQ10 and HO-1, indicative of increased antioxidative and cell-protecting function.

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